News & Events

Nurses warn: Wall Street targeting hospitals for profits!

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
December 2011 Edition

MNA/NNU nurses and their supporters take over N.Y.’s Park Avenue during demonstration against Cerberus-Steward
  RNs from Massachusetts turned out in force in New York to protest at the parent company of Cerberus-Steward.
  View more photos from the event

Hundreds of nurses and their supporters from across the U.S. converged outside the offices of Cerberus Capital Management in New York on Dec. 20 to protest the practices of the multibillion dollar private equity firm’s health care unit, Steward Health Care System. Cerberus-Steward, which now operates 10 hospitals in Massachusetts, has partnered with a number of physician practices locally and is also entering the health insurance market. Cerberus-Steward has come under increasing criticism for cornering the market with predatory practices, undercutting patient care with its push for profits.

The nurses—who came from Massachusetts, New York, Washington, D.C., California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Nevada—were all members of National Nurses United. At the rally, allies from several advocacy groups joined them as well as protesters from Occupy Wall Street. The highlights of the demonstration included a street performance and a 10-foot, three-headed dog, “Cerberus,” the mythical canine at the gates of Hell.

“As patient advocates on the front lines, nurses are sounding the alarm about the entrance of cut-throat private equity firms, like Cerberus, into the health care marketplace,” said Karen Higgins, RN and co-president, National Nurses United. “It is a development that spells danger for patients and communities across the country.”

Cerberus owns an array of businesses, including the Freedom Group subsidiary—a leading manufacturer of guns and ammunition. Last year it added the chain of hospitals to its portfolio.

Nurses who work at those hospitals say that Cerberus-Steward has failed to maintain quality patient care standards at the Massachusetts facilities in contravention of an agreement reached with the state and with its employees. The OK for the profit-maker to take control of the non-profit facilities was tied to keeping patient care a top priority. The company makes daily threats to close services or entire hospitals in direct violation of its assurances to the state as a condition of entering the marketplace.

The nurses report a number of alarming changes since Cerberus-Steward took over. Staffing levels have been reduced, specialty units for the care of specific conditions have been eliminated and patients are treated like products on an assembly line. Even the most basic supplies are not available when nurses need them; for example bread, crackers and juice (which nurses need to stabilize diabetic patients) are no longer available on the floors.

Some nurses who spoke out to protect their patients have been fired, in direct violation of federal labor law. To its RNs, Cerberus-Steward reneged on its contract, dropping the promised defined benefit pension plan—a benefit promised to keep RNs on the job. It is threatening to cut health benefits to some nurses, as well.

Earlier this month, Cerberus-Steward announced a partnership with Compass Medical, a group of 90 doctors. This fall, Steward bought into Whittier Independent Practice Association and its 150 MDs. A protest by community hospital groups to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said these purchases “violate the assurance by Steward … that such apparent predatory actions against community hospitals would not take place.”

There are concerns that MD practices in deals with Cerberus-Steward would refer their patients to those hospitals, excluding non-profits. In a Nov. 23 letter to the AG, the Massachusetts Council of Community Hospitals wrote, “What tools will be used to measure market power and leverage?”

On Dec. 12, Cerberus-Steward announced it will begin marketing a health insurance plan. Steward Community Choice limited network plan has coverage for most ailments steering patients to Steward hospitals and doctors.